Seedy Switzerland tries to clean up its act
"Seven months away from Euro 2008 and sordid scenes are spreading across the city."
Just a few weeks ago there were riots in the Swiss capital Berne as left wing demonstrators protested ahead of the country's elections.
Police and demonstrators clashed as missiles were thrown and rubbish set alight. It was not the image the country hoped for just a few months away from Euro 2008 when anything between 2.8 and 5.4 million visitors are anticipated.
The rioters have gone but the seat of government is still troubled.
"Berne, Tawdry Capital" the front page of the French language tabloid Le Matin, screamed earlier this month. The pictures showed junkies shooting up and young people begging on the streets.
"Seven months away from Euro 2008 and sordid scenes are spreading across the city," it added.
The socialist mayor has moved to silence his critics by attempting to ban begging at the station, one of the trouble spots, and where most fans will arrive. His rivals say its either not enough or goes too far. Right wing opponents want nothing less than a city-wide ban citing violence among drug dealers.
"What are we waiting for, the first death?" said UDC city delegate Thomas Fuchs.
Just what image would the tens of thousands of football fans take home, asks an editorial inside, as they are confronted by misery in the form of "rudeness, dirt, misery and drugs."
It brings back memories of the notorious Needle Park in Zurich where a liberal attitude to drug abusers backfired in the 90s.
That city has cleaned up its act by setting up centres off the streets for needle exchanges and drugs. Its Euro 2008 preparations are well under way too with plans to create car free zones, boost public transport and create fan zones and public viewing areas like the other venues.
Meanwhile all holiday has been cancelled for police and emergency services during the tournament when up to 150,000 visitors a day are expected.
International Geneva too has begun a crackdown against begging after a relaxation in the laws led to a sharp rise in the numbers of people on the streets since the start of the year.
A special task force has been set up to carry out identity checks, the cardboard cities under many of the city bridges, a stone's throw from the designer stores and banking district have been swept away.
"The main idea is to make Geneva less attactive" for beggars, mainly Roma from Romania the city councillor Pierre Maudet explained in a press conference in mid-November. The city is hoping the clean up scheme will do the trick before the football fans start arriving in June.
Geneva like Basel and other venues is trying resolve the desperate shortage of accommodation. A temporary camp site will be set up on the edge of town for easy access to the Stade de Geneve and the public viewing screens in the centre.
Householders are being encouraged to move in with friends and rent out their homes for the duration of the tournament in an effort to bump up the amount of accommodation available.
Basel, on the Rhine, is considering using rooms on ships to swell the number of beds available for the 110,000 visitors expected on match days. Some 2,500 low-cost places will be made available in Fan Camps or camp sites.
The authorities are also hoping that local residents will open up their homes to visiting fans throughout the tournament. The official UEFA fan zones have been selected round the Muenster and Basel Barracks.
Planning permission has been obtained for a public viewing area inside a 7,000-capacity mini-stadium at Liestal, a small town outside the city. Two giant car parks are planned and public transport is being expanded to help relieve bottlenecks.
With still more than six months to go there is still plenty of time to get the final formula right for all the venues.
The country wants to show the fans a good time but with millions of people expected and large sums of money to be made, Euro 2008 is also a business opportunity no one is prepared to squander.